Affected beliefs

Researchers at Lübeck University show links between emotions and the formation of self-efficacy beliefs

Why do some people believe that they are good at something and others not, while performing exactly similar? A recent study from CBBM researchers finds that emotional experiences are linked to how people establish self-efficacy beliefs and describes neural dynamics and computational processes underlying learning from social feedback.

The study, published in Communications Biology, investigated links between emotional experiences and processing of surprisingly positive or negative feedbacks on the study participants' ability in estimating properties of objects. Previous research focused on how well-established beliefs, e.g., a student's belief about her math or sports ability, depends on the learning environment or impacts future career choices. The present study starts at a much earlier point by examining the way people initially form such convictions about their abilities, when confronted with an unknown task.

"We developed an unfamiliar estimation task, because we think that study participants would not have too firm previous assumptions about their ability for example in estimating the weight of animals." explains Dr. Laura Müller-Pinzler, from the Social Neuroscience Lab at the CBBM. As expected, the formation of the self-efficacy belief was biased in the sense that participants preferentially processed negative compared to positive feedback to update their beliefs. Importantly, people with stronger bias for negative information had greater emotional arousal when confronted with negative feedback and experienced more embarrassment and less pride. This was indicated by the dilation of the pupil and altered activity of brain regions involved in regulating affect. Together, the results hint at neurocomputational mechanisms that integrate emotional experiences during learning when people form novel beliefs about their abilities.

"Self-efficacy beliefs are important when making life choices. Our study now provides evidence that these beliefs are linked to the affective experience during their initial formation. While the social feedback in response to our performances might be ambiguous in everyday life, it is beneficial for developing strong self-efficacy beliefs if positive emotions outweigh the negative experiences during learning."

Laura Müller-Pinzler, Nora Czekalla, Annalina V. Mayer, Alexander Schröder, David S. Stolz, Frieder M. Paulus, Sören Krach (2022) Neurocomputational mechanisms of affected beliefs, Communications Biology 5, 1241, DOI https://doi.org/10.1038/s42003-022-04165-3